What Went Wrong?

Logan Pause, Wilman Conde

It goes without saying that Saturday night's playoff elimination at the hands of Real Salt Lake was an incredibly gut-wrenching defeat for the Fire. It's tough any time a team bows out of a competition due to penalty kicks, but this one was especially painful for Chicago - who has now been eliminated from the Eastern Conference Final in three consecutive seasons.

Though the Fire didn't play a horrible match, they certainly had some problems, beginning with their sluggish start. Despite having a charged up home crowd at their backs, the Fire let Real Salt Lake dictate the early tempo and the match's beginnings saw RSL spend far too much time in the Fire's half. The Fire's poor start kind of set the tone for the rest of the game - in which the Fire was never really able to get up to full speed.
The Fire players started stirring around the 25th minute, but the team (yet again...) fell victim to its season-long demon - the inability to finish chances. The Fire was done in this time in the 27th minute, when Brian McBride's near post flick went off the crossbar and C.J. Brown and Dasan Robinson failed to put their rebounded attempts into the back of the net. The chance was the best of the game for the Fire, who simply couldn't get the attack to 100% all night.

One of the major reasons for the Fire's offensive woes was the lack of movement off the ball. I can't tell you how many times I saw a Fire player dribbling at the Salt Lake defense with none of his fellow attackers making a run. Honestly it was sickening. It's pretty simple soccer to know that you have to make solid off-the-ball runs and the Fire attackers were not up to task in that aspect of the match.

A contributing factor to the Fire's lack of off-the-ball movement was the lack of speed up top. Simply put, Brian McBride and Cuauhtemoc Blanco don't have the wheels that they used to - and that was painfully obvious Saturday night. One particular instance that sticks out in my mind came in the 86th minute, when the Fire saw a short-lived 2 v 1 chance eliminated when a wide open McBride received the ball on the wing only to see the trailing Salt Lake defense catch up and end the chance.

The worst part of the aforementioned attacking problems was that they could've all been eliminated with some tactical changes from the Fire bench. One thing I would've liked to see Denis Hamlett do was to drop Blanco behind McBride in the attack. Putting Blanco in a supporting striker role seems to best serve his talents (just watch him next time he plays for Mexico...) and the Fire would've likely gotten more production from Temo had he played behind the front line.

I also would've have liked to see Patrick Nyarko come on earlier in the match. In my opinion, waiting until the 77th minute to put him in was a big mistake and I thought he should have come on for Chris Rolfe (who looked pretty ineffective throughout) or Marco Pappa (who looked to be losing his legs) around the 60th minute.

The final Fire missteps came in the penalty shootout. John Thorrington, Logan Pause and Brandon Prideaux all saw their penalty efforts saved by Nick Rimando and that sealed the Fire's fate. From my view, I didn't think Thorrington's effort was too bad - but Rimando came up with a big time stop on it. Unfortunately the same can't really be said about Logan and Brandon's shots, both of which were pretty weak. I kind of question Hamlett's choice to throw those players into the lineup before Justin Mapp - though Mapp did miss in the SuperLiga final shootout, so I can't complain about the decision too much.

There were some positives for the Fire from Saturday night though, and I don't want to sign off before giving some credit where it is due. I thought the Fire defense played an excellent game and they did well to keep RSL off the board. Jon Busch - despite his struggles in the shootout - also came up big, making several tremendous stops throughout the game.

All in all, it was an incredibly disappointing - and sad - night at Toyota Park. Hamlett and the players were absolutely devastated by the loss and it was tough to hear/watch Real Salt Lake's locker room celebrations knowing just how close the Fire was to pulling it off.


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  • I think everyone got really excited with the fact that we have Blanco and McBride. But those people failed to realize that they are closer to 40 than 30 and both were slow in their 20's. We are going to have way to much cap space this off season and people need to be coming in.

  • MLS Best XI is to be revealed today and I think it is telling that Wilman Conde will be the only Fire player in consideration for that team (and he was hurt the last month plus). We all spoke of potential but it has gone unfulfilled for whatever reason: injury, age, caoching, attitude, etc.... The fact is that I did go unfulfilled and its time to move forward.

    There is undoubtedly a need to bring in fresh talent and there should be money to spend. But the decisions that need to be made are difficult ones.

    The coach is decison 1A and it needs to be made now. I actually think Hamlett did a better job than he has been given credit for this year. But even I don't see him as the man to rebuild things. Making the key finding a really could caoch and getting involved in the carousel before all the good candidates are gone.

    Secondly, decisions for the expansion draft need to be made if you think you can resign Segares and Pappa protect them if not leave them for someone else, DO NOT protect Justin Mapp and don;t let the people with potential that can fill soem of the amny holes get snapped up (Banner, Woolard, etc....).

    And last but not least keep you loyal fans informed. We want to know what's going on.

  • Sam,

    You're absolutely correct in your observations. The insistence on playing Blanco and McBride up top has been a source of aggravation for many of us all year. Playing Blanco ahead of McBride is even more ridiculous. They are very easy to defend using this formation. Was there anyone in the house that actually belived Pause and Prideaux were going to convert? I'm thinking the only way Pause hits that PK is if the net is behind him.

    Nyarko definitely should have been inserted earlier. We were calling for it around the 60th minute as well.

    Kries inserted Grabavoy with no time left in the overtime for the specific task of making a PK, meanwhile we have the third highest paid player on the team standing there while two defenders who can't shoot waste their attempts with garbage shots.

    Kreis also mentioned in post game that he was surprised the Fire did not attempt to push the attack more. Of course, RSL was fouling at any sign of a counter attack but that is were our bench needs to step up.

    So long Denis.....don't let the door hit you.

  • Sam,

    I agree with pretty much everything you said. Though I don't think anything should be said of the penalties - when you've failed to score a single goal after 120 minutes, at home, with a sellout crowd, in the conference final, with some of the highest paid (and supposedly most talented) players leading your attack, then you've already lost. I mean, come on, we only had one decent chance, the McBride header. How could that be our only good chance of the game?? Nyarko is probably an even worse finished than anyone else, but he adds more than just speed: aggression. He constantly takes players on and fights for every ball (see: the winner against New England). He should have been on much sooner. And the knock he took to the head, I think, really took him out of his game, he wasn't the same afterward.

    Anyway, I guess it's good that everyone is leaving this season, we're in need of a rebuilding.

  • In reply to manyou07:

    Nyarko was definitely out of it after taking the knock. I saw him after the game and he looked very woozy and when asked 'what planet he was on right now' he laughed and said Pluto which -- considering it's not even considered a planet anymore -- wasn't the best answer...

  • In reply to manyou07:

    The Fire just plain and simple dont know how to use a talent like Mcbride. You have the best target man that the united states has ever produced, and you have him running around the field exposing his weaknesses. When he played in england they automatically knew from the getgo what type of player he is and how theyre going to use him, and tada! He became an absolutley deadley striker. If the coaching staffs IQ was a bit higher and they actually scouted the mans legendary history properly, you would have got the best of the best out of him and not the confusing mess that THEY turned him into. He still has a year or 2 left in the tank because hes not your ordinary 37 year old. The man wants to play for his hometown and win something with them! that being said if both parties sign on for another contract they better as hell build the team around HIM, and NOT vice versa.

  • In reply to fadil44:

    I would never label McBride as a deadly striker. What he did with the Fire is what he did his whole career. Ran all over the place and held the ball up for the players in behind. The only problem is that we aren't in England. He not dropping the ball off to Danny Murphy or other European talent. Hes dropping it off to Baggio, Logan, or Thorrington. In this league speed kills and we don't have that. We have the opposite of it. So while McBride WAS a great player, he is just a shell of what he used to be.

  • In reply to Rubberbandman189:

    And why would we ever build our team around a 37/38 yr old?

  • In reply to Rubberbandman189:

    Fine, the mls is not for him cause all the teams are fancy on this thing called speed. but listen, i studied the man while he was in england with 2 eyes wide open and to say what you just said about him is just proposterous. In fact the complete oppsite of what you said is true, guys like bullard and konchesky and davies and a whole bunch of former fulham players just fed him the ball and HE took care of the rest.. he should defintley finish off his career in europe becuase thats where his skill is exposed, but thats not gonna happen anymore. so like it or not and hopefully if he doesnt retire hes gonna be back with the fire next year to win the championship.

  • In reply to manyou07:

    We ruined the best chance we'll have at a trophy. Too much of that goes to coaching. Rolfe should've played up front all season. McBride and Blanco, 2 old players, killed all breakaway opportunities. BMB led the team in goals this year, he was out for half the season. Bottom line, you need speed up front. Chris could've been the absolute best player on the team easily, but we wasted him. This hurt his career as much as it hurt our season.

  • In reply to manyou07:

    I have to disagree I thought Rolfe was one of the few effective players for the night. Showed skill and class for the squad. However the slow mo forward line is terrible.

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